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Kamyana mohyla a stone barrow in the Ukrainian steppes


Borys Mykhailov, a historian and archeologist, devoted 30 years of his life to excavations of Kamyana Mohyla. The article accompanying these photographs and drawings is based on his works published by the Taki Spravy Publishers.


Not far from the city of Melitopol, which is situated close to the Sea of Azov in southern Ukraine, there is a place, which is known as Kamyana Mohyla, or Stone Barrow  a large mound of sandstone boulders of uncertain age. The mound must have been used by prehistoric people as a shrine, and in later times, as late as the tenth-twelfth centuries AD, it was still regularly visited.


Kamyana Mohyla is not the only barrow in the steppes of that area but surely it is the largest and most interesting one.

As a matter of fact, where now the steppes stretch in all directions like a sea, there used to be an actual sea, with water, in the times of what the geologists call the Tertiary Period (the geologic time, lasting from 66.4 to 1.6 million years ago, system of rocks, and sedimentary deposits of the first period of the Cenozoic Era, extending from the Cretaceous Period of the Mesozoic Era to the Quaternary Period of the Cenozoic Era, characterized by the appearance of modern flora and of apes and other large mammals). The glaciers that moved from north to south and then back across that area made a major contribution to the formation of this mound of huge boulders in the midst of what still later became the steppe.

All kinds of weird animals used to roam around those steppes  mammoths, bison and wooly rhinos among them, with mighty birds soaring overhead.

Then, even more weird creatures appeared in the steppes  ancestors of Homo Sapiens. Archeologists and anthropologists gave these creatures fancy Latin names: Homo erectus, Homo habilis, Homo neanderthalensis and last but probably not the least Homo sapiens sapiens, that is us, humans of today.

Some of our ancestors must have found Kamyana Mohyla to be a nice shelter against the inclemency of weather, and a good place to hide from predators. They liked the place so much that they decorated it with petroglyphs  carvings or line drawings on rock.

The first written mention of Kamyana Mohyla dates from 1778, but surely local people and travelers must have come across the mound much earlier and wondered what it might be. In the early nineteenth century scholars began showing some interest in it but this interest took a shape of an archeological expedition only in the late 1930s. One of the archeological expeditions, led by O. Bader, found literally thousands of petroglyphs and pictures on the rock walls of the grottos and caves that were discovered inside the mound.

In the 1950s, the Ukrainian archeologist M. Rudynsky wrote that the petroglyphs of Kamyana Mohyla were created by people of cultures that existed in that geographical area at the crossroads between east and west.

In 19611963, archeological expeditions led by Borys Mykhailov discovered new caves in Kamyana Mohyla. Their walls were also covered with numerous petroglyphs which represented prehistoric animals and humans in schematic and more realistic drawings and carvings. Mykhailov kept returning to Kamyana Mohyla for many years and in the period from 1983 to 2002 he discovered 15 new grottos and caves, also decorated with petroglyphs. Among his discoveries was a piece of bronze sculpture which, he claims, represents the head of a dragon.

Thousands of petroglyphs and pictures in Kamyana Mohyla must have been created over a very long stretch of time  the earliest date from about the twenty-second millennium BC, and the latest to about twelfth century AD.

There are also signs of the mound having been used as a shrine in the early times. Kamyana Mohyla evidently deserves to be investigated and studied more thoroughly.

At present, it has become a tourist attraction which raises a question of its proper protection and preservation of its art.

Kamyana Mohyla is situated on the right bank of the River Molochna in the vicinity of the village of Terpinnya.

On the northern side of Kamyana Mohyla you can find a museum, Pervisne mystetstvo Kamyanoyi Mohyly (Early Art of Kamyana Mohyla) which, through its exhibits of art and artifacts discovered in Kamyana Mohyla, traces its history from the earliest times to the early Middle Ages. Among the artifacts you can find all kinds of implements and weapons used by the prehistoric people, earthenware and petroglyphs.

The finds do not give any clear indications of the ethnic background of the people who inhabited it or visited the caves of Kamyana Mohyla.

Reconstructions and models recreate the scenes of everyday life of those who inhabited Kamyana Mohyla thousands or hundreds years ago.

Among the pictures, the representation of a winged horse makes one think of Pegasus, but what was the meaning that the ancient people put into this image is not clear.

Petroglyphs with representations of couples engaged in lovemaking have been given various interpretations, from literal to highly mythological and even mystic. Similar pictures are known in many other early cultures of the world and could be connected with some fertility cults.

Borys Mykahilov claims that some of the petroglyphs he has discovered in Kamyana Mohyla are in fact hieroglyphs which, in his opinion, are similar to hieroglyphs and ancient scripts discovered in various other parts of the world (Bulgaria, Rumania, Crete, Phoenicia and Sumer). According to Mykhailov they date from as early as the sixth or fifth millennium BC.


By Ludmyla Kuznetsova, art critic


A view of Kamyana Mohyla from the south
with rocks which are believed to have been
part of some kind of rituals. Kamyana Mohyla
saw cavemen, nomads, medieval
warriors and Cossacks.


Petroglyph that represents a woman
riding a rhino. 87 millennia BC.


Stone chimeras on the top of Kamyana Mohyla.


Scythian idols with Kamyana
Mohyla in the background.


Petroglyphs in Cave # 34
suggestive of ancient myths.


Representation of a fish. 2216 millennia BC.


Representation of a mammoth
from Cave Kozy. 2216 millennia BC.


Representation of a bull from Grotto #9.
End of the 4th early 3rd millennia BC.


A pot that dates from the Bronze
Era of the 3rd or early 2nd millennia BC.


A burial of the early 2nd millennium BC which
is believed to contain remains of a man and
a woman. This burial could have had some
ritual significance connected with a belief
in a Creator who combined in himself the male
and female principles and created the first
sacred couple of humans.


Petroglyphs from Cave # 28.
The cult of horses played a significant
role in the life of many ancient peoples.


A picture which dates to the Christian
times in Grotto Byk.


A representation of the cross, square
and circle which are believed to be symbols
of husbandry and of the sun.


A representation of the cross that dates
to the fifth-ninth centuries AD can be
evidence of the spreading of Christianity.


A view from the top of Kamyana
Mohyla on the River Molochna.


Ornaments on the earthenware
that date to the 17th16th centuries BC.


Pictographs from Mesopotamia (Sumer)
on the left and pictographs
from Kamyana Mohyla on the right.



Characters which remind the Latin script
on the left and those that remind the Cyrillic script
on the right discovered in Kamyana Mohyla.


Interior of the Museum of Kamyana Mohyla.


Reenacting of an ancient ritual at Kamyana Mohyla.


Tracing copy of Plate #60
with representations of a goat
hunter. 87 millennia BC.


A descendant of Cossacks.


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